NOW that President Duterte has created a consultative committee on Charter-Change and named former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to head it, many people feel the proceedings are well on the right track.
For a while, the debate was on peripheral issues such as how the revision of the Constitution would be done – by Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) or by Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass), two of the three means prescribed by the present Constitution.
The administration appears to favor Constitutional Assembly to avoid the big expense involved in holding an election of Con-Con delegates, providing them with salaries, offices, and staff, and all the other expenses of a major government office. A Con-Ass, on the other hand, would be composed of the sitting members of the Senate and House of Representatives; there would be no need for additional salaries, offices, staff, and other expenses.
There has also been a discussion and sharp disagreement on whether the Senate and the House would be voting jointly or separately in a Con-Ass, to the point that the House declared it could meet and vote by itself as its membership constitutes more than the required three-fourths vote needed for Charter Change. The Senate countered that it would meet by itself and pass its own provisions by three-fourths of its own membership.
All these issues on the means of amendment, we hope, will be settled in due time, with a ruling from the Supreme Court in view of the not-so-clear provisions in the Constitution. It is time, we believe, that we begin discussing the basic issues involved in Charter-change – the provisions to be amended, any new ones to be included, the entire character of the new Charter.
The basic reason for revising the Constitution, as stated by the President, is to set up a federal system of government, where the regions or states composing the federal whole would each have sufficient authority and capacity to govern and develop themselves. The President had in mind the Moro people who have long sought a Bangsamoro territory of their own, where their culture will have greater room to grow and prosper, where they would have greater access to their natural wealth, where they would have a greater share of the national taxes and other resources.
In the course of debates on this basic goal, deliberations are bound to go in all directions. There are strong moves to open more areas of the Philippine economy to greater foreign investments. There are moves to set up a unicameral parliament to replace the present bicameral Congress. There are also moves to amend the present provisions banning political dynasties and limiting the number of terms elected officials may serve.
Whatever means are finally adopted in amending the Constitution – whether by Con-Con, Con-Ass, or People’s Initiative – these and other basic issues are bound to come up and we had better start discussing them. The Puno consultative committee should be able to begin this task well with the many great legal, constitutional, and other authorities in the committee. We are confident that it will have a marked influence on the new Constitution for our country.